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Holding firm

Bill Duke's Not Easily Broken
By TOM MEEK  |  January 9, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Not Easily Broken

Not Easily Broken | Directed by Bill Duke | Written by Brian Bird based on the novel by T.D. Jakes | with Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, Maeve Quinlan, Cannon Jay, Eddie Cibrian, Jenifer Lewis, and Niecy Nash | Sony Pictures Entertainment | 99 minutes
Bill Duke, whom you may recall as the strung-out mercenary carving a hole in his head with a Bic razor in the 1987 Predator, or as the director of the edgy 1992 crime drama Deep Cover, gets behind the camera again for this melodrama about a 10-year marriage ripped apart by lack of sex and a brutal car accident. It's an uneven yet affecting effort, clotted with cliché and stereotype early on but becoming confluent and even provocative as it places a salient spin on responsibility, race, and going the distance.

At the heart of the urban malaise, the conflicted Dave (Morris Chestnut) is struggling to get a small construction business off the ground. His once promising baseball future was cut short by injury, and he now lingers in the shadow of his wife, Clarice (Taraji P. Henson), a real-estate broker to affluent clientele whose career is just taking off. She's compassionate and encouraging enough, but she's also impatient and too focused on her career to nurture the relationship. His solace comes from coaching inner-city kids and drinking beer with his man posse. That doesn't sit well with Clarice or her mother, Mary (Jenifer Lewis), a shrew who never thought inner-city Dave (the baseball scholarship was his way out) was good enough for her daughter.

That might be enough to break any marriage, but the two try to sort it out. Then an automobile collision puts Clarice in a cast. She can't work, and one of her office mates (Niecy Nash) tries to horn in on her business. Saddling it all on Dave, Mary moves in and takes control of the house. Dave finds Clarice a physical therapist, but even that good deed backfires when he finds himself getting interested in Julie (Maeve Quinlan) and her son (Cannon Jay). Dave's pal Brock (a hunky Eddie Cibrian) has his own designs on Julie; meanwhile Clarice and her folks decide to have it out with the "skinny white" interloper.

Based on Bishop T.D. Jakes's novel, the film does come off preachy at points, and the dramatic storm that propels the plot has too much pulpit puppetry for its own good. (But don't all Bible lessons?) Still, the message of rebuilding a house from the ground up and doing the hard work and investing in hope and in one another remains inspirational and powerful. In our brand-new Obama-ordained world, it even seems relevant. We can see that Brock is white and Dave is black, but neither character appears to notice. And if Dave is unduly judged by his mother-in-law, well, the father of one of his inner-city kids feels unduly judged by Dave. These are subtle nuggets, and they give the film a sweet juice.

Duke might not have been the best choice to helm such genre matter. His hand does steady as the film builds, but the real credit goes to the leads. Chestnut holds it together with a staid performance; Henson, so wonderful and radically different as Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is the emotive wild card. They and the rest of the cast show up as stock caricatures, but they emerge as real people.

  Topics: Reviews , Bill Duke , Morris Chestnut , NOT EASILY BROKEN ,  More more >
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